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Editorial: Getting to work on the Gulf coast

President Barack Obama last week claimed full responsibility for cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It's something we thought was already in place, since the federal government has charge over waters off our shores to the international boundary of 12 nautical miles or the Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles.

Apparently not. Up to this point BP has been in charge, and it's done a horrible job of containing the spill, which has gone on for six weeks.

Under severe pressure from stakeholders, such as Louisiana shrimpers, it's high time for Obama to step in and put the federal government in charge. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen has led the federal response, but now there needs to be one boss for the operation, and federal resources need to be plied to the oil spill dilemma and recovery.

And, of course, BP will be getting the bill.

The president called the spill an "unprecedented disaster" and blasted a "scandalously close relationship" he said has persisted between Big Oil and government regulators.

In taking charge, the president Thursday also ordered a continuation of a moratorium on drilling permits for six months and he suspended planned exploration drilling off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia, and on 33 wells under way in the Gulf of Mexico.

We desperately need more domestic oil production, but it must be done in a safe way as to not threaten the environment. The Gulf oil spill has now exceeded the infamous Exxon Valdez spill in damages, making it the worst in U.S. history, and will go much further. Rules and regulations must be re-examined to protect the environment, but also must not be too onerous to stop off shore oil exploration.

"There shouldn't be any confusion here," President Obama said Thursday. "The federal government is fully engaged."

The American public will be watching closely now to see what the Obama administration does. The first goal is to stop the oil gusher; the second to begin the recovery to restore the important ecosystem off the Gulf states' shores.

It will be a tough chore, but now we know for sure where the blame -- and the credit -- will go.